It’s been close to 3 weeks since I returned from Uganda. Coming back was a numbing experience. The day after I returned I remember slowly walking up and down the aisles of Harris Teeter in awe at the sheer abundance of it all. It was truly amazing; apples, fruit, canned goods & fresh meat as far as the eye could see. It was a virtual cathedral of consumerism, such a variety of food, all prepackaged & prepared and ready for consumption. It might strike you as odd to describe a supermarket in this way but, it’s such an impressive display of our wealth.
It was difficult leaving. It’s how you would feel if you were pulled out of a movie right in the middle of the action scene. You can feel that the activity is intensifying in but back in North Carolina you only get bits and pieces of it. It’s totally unsatisfying and in many ways it makes me wish I had never left. Part of the dissatisfaction lies in what my life has become here. It’s not as if I’m not having a good time, or that my work is unfulfilling because it is, and I’m happy to be here. It’s just that Uganda feels so distant to me now. What’s distant is the taste, the feel of the place. It’s the rush you get when you realize how truly fortunate you are. It indebts you with this urge to act and a deep understanding there is no sense in wasting time. It’s the same feeling cancer survivors have and it’s what’s left after everything you once valued is stripped away and laid bare. It’s the feeling that your life can have purpose. It’s the visceral, tactile sense that you’re doing something good for the world. Read more →
It has been 3 weeks since our last day of work at the Centro Explorativo in La Pista and Nebaj, Guatemala. Our team has split up and we have returned to our “normal” summer lives in North Carolina, as well as Boston, Saint Louis, and even Guatemala. The work that 4 weeks allowed our group to achieve has concluded, but there is much left undone both on the ground for CES as well as for our Nourish team.
On our last day we successfully raised the greenhouse and had reason to believe that it would remain standing for a long time to come. With a mounted structure and around 50 square meters, the greenhouse is ready to be utilized by the Centro for food production. Pavak is developing a manual that holds all the secrets to the greenhouse so that if there is ever a need to replace something or even rebuild the entire thing, they won’t need a new team of American students to do it for them.
Two other very important feats occurred on that day. First, the last portion of the floor was placed in the actual Centro by Miguel’s team of masons, leaving only the painting and clean-up on the to-do list before the building was to become operational. I can say that it was an honor to work side-by-side with the masons of La Pista. And finally, David successfully interviewed 50 families from the community and obtained the data from 29 questions that will be used to cater the Centro to the community’s specific needs and wants. Currently he is tabulating these results and will be analyzing and sharing them over the course of the summer.
Our last meeting with the CES staff left us all with a better idea of the meaning of our work and the necessary next steps. The peanut butter business that will support the Centro is still only an idea, but the needed human capital to launch it will be provided (hopefully) by Guatemalan university students through the program Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). The English language DVD’s will be finalized over the summer by Steve and a volunteer guideline will be developed by Nick. These materials will improve the quality of service offered by CES at the Centros (plural!) and will engage future volunteers by leveraging our experience. Finally, the hours and hours of film are being digitized and a story is being sown with them by Catarina in order to create a documentary of our endeavors.
With all of these amazing results and another successful project under the Nourish belt, I believe that it is important to catch ourselves and understand why this project was really successful. It is not because we are putting check marks to a list of bullet-pointed, poverty-reducing initiatives (especially if we are to consider the number of points we were unable to get to!), but rather it is because of the now invisible marks that Nourish left on a rural, Guatemalan community and a group of students. It is the relationships that we built with people like Mek/Miguel, los Felipes, the staff of el Descanso (Ana, Cash, Diego and Chico especially!), the teachers of the Centro (and the kids!), and the families that took us into their homes in Nebaj and La Pista. I think that the project in Guatemala was successful because our team was, like our chosen image suggests, a bridge connecting two peoples. We connected American and Guatemalan, we connected University and Community, we connected wealthy and poor, we connected ventures to development; we connected students to reality and through that did our best to Nourish those in poverty by Nourish’ing ourselves.
Writing From Gulu,
I arrived in Gulu three days ago in the entourage of the Honorable Betty Ochan, Member of Parliament for the District. We came in a crowded jeep, crowded because Betty’s father had just passed away the same day and everyone else in the car was a family member traveling up for the burial. Earlier that week when the elder Ochan was still with us the plan had been for Jeff to come as well but under the present circumstances there simply was no room. When we arrived in Gulu I attempted to check me in to no one but 4 different hotels, but every single one was booked. USAID was about to open up an office the next day and there was also a meeting of something called |the British Council”, and the parking lots were glittering with hundreds of sparkling NGO, and IGO SUVs. Read more →
Drive south about nine hours from Nebaj, almost to the Salvadorian border, and you’ll find yourself in a perfect oasis. Six of us made this drive last weekend, and it turned out to be the perfect remedy for our restlessness.
While David and QuiQui headed to the capital to be with family, the remainder of the group chartered a micro bus and took a much-needed break from the hustle-and-bustle of work and life in Nebaj. At this point, we’d been living with local families for almost a week, and we were finalizing plans for the greenhouse construction. A weekend at the beach would give CES some time to approve our plans and allow the education team to work on scripts for English-language DVDs that will be used at the centers when no English volunteers are around.
So off we went, bubbling with excitement for a change in scenery. And what a change it was.
Carlos’ family beach house in Las Lisas was perfectly suited for its climate and surroundings. With a tall, banana-leaf roof and an open-aired common area, protected from mosquitoes with nets instead of walls, the house’s plush couch and big dinner table bred conversation and laughter.
We spent the next few days floating in the pool, relaxing in one of the many hammocks, playing the addictive dudo game and braving the tall waves of the Pacific. We were joined for a few days at a time by Carlos’ older brother, Alejandro, and his fiancée Catherine, and then by Carlos’ dad, his girlfriend Audrey, and Carlos’ little sister Natalia.
Erin, Nick and I had planned out an extensive grocery list for the meals we wanted to cook. The grocery store we stopped at on the way to the beach had a produce section consisting of bananas so ripe they’d only do for banana bread, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and limes. So you can imagine we ran into some problems. Fortunately Alejandro and Mr. Toriello brought the remainder of what we needed. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of improv cooking, all of which turned out great.
Nick and I put together an Alfredo sauce the first night, a creamy marinara the second and breakfasts with scrambled eggs and chocolate pancakes. Erin made an amazing chicken parmesan the third night, as well as chocolate rice krispies. Carlos had asked me to make a marble cake when he heard me raving about it, so I was finally able to when Mr. Toriello and Audrey brought baking powder.
In the evenings, before the dining fiasco, we would sit down on the beach. Facing a pink a peach glow reflected in the receding ebb of the tireless ocean, we talked. Sometimes it was to hear Mr. Toriello’s political stories about various enigmatic relatives and sometimes just to discuss the day’s events.
Speaking of daily events, Nick and I experienced the true force of the mighty Pacific. When everyone else sat down for a game of dudo one afternoon, I convinced Nick to come swimming with me. We were just talking and dodging waves when a little while later we noticed we hadn’t gone under a wave in a while. Looking behind us, we realized that the beach was pretty far away. Carlos had explained the rip tide danger, and we thought we were being careful, but I guess we got dragged into it. We started swimming side stroke to get back to shore. Just when I thought we weren’t getting anywhere, we were swept up in a huge wave. I heard Nick tell me to ride it just as I went under. I popped up after being thrown around, but didn’t see Nick. He finally came up, telling me he was under for almost a minute. GREAAAAT. Well, we continued to swim calmly and made it back to the beach, safe, sound and exhausted. Mr. Toriello made us some daiquiris when we got back, which sure helped relax us.
So that, in a nut shell, was our beach weekend. Although eventful at times, it was mostly relaxing and a great time to enjoy good food, friends and weather. If that soothing humidity could only have followed us back to Nebaj. Alas, we’ll deal with the rainy season for a few more days.
On Saturday night, Hayssam and I arrived in Fort Portal, a majestic town situated along the majestic foothills of the Rwenzorri mountain range. Hayssam and I arrived in high spirits as our bus careened into town, offloading us onto a bustling street rife with guest houses. We walked with a bit of a swagger as we entered this new part of the country, ready to meet with NAADS, ready to meet with RECO Industries, ready to visit Hima Cement, and Ready to sell some shellers. Yes, we had swagger.
We haggled (rather, Hayssam haggled, and I took notes on how to haggle) the guest houses down to a reasonable price and sauntered off to a nearby restaurant where we happily chowed down on some egg roll (a hard boiled encased in a sphere of potato…so cool), cassava and yoghurt. All was well. We had swagger.
We returned to the guest house and shared stories of mutual friends. We laughed. We planned the next day. We were ready for Western Kasese. We had Sunday off because no offices are open on Sundays, so we planned to take the day off to hike the Rwenzorri Mountain. It was there, gleaming, ready for the taking. Day 1: conquer the mountain. Days 2 and 3: conquer the Gnut/Coffee biomass fuel business. Day 4: Leave with the wind at our backs. We had swagger. Read more →
Step 1: Level the plot
If you’re the lucky, the plot chosen for the greenhouse to be built upon will be level.
If you’re us… it won’t.
So here’s the deal, you’re standing on a slope. You want to build there. It’s sloped. If this were the States you could call up the local contracting agency, they’d bring in a bulldozer and voila! Level plot! Unfortunately you’re not in the States.
I think not!
All you need is a broad wooden plank, a sturdy wooden pole, two pieces of rope and two oxen. We call it “El Toro.”
Oh wait, you were thinking this part would be easy now, weren’t you? Ha! You forgot the small detail of having limited resources. The changes this would make? Simple- just replace the two oxen with two able-bodied team members. It helps to wrap the rope around your hips once before tying a knot. Dig in your boots… and pull!
Ok… so three days and 25 cubic meters of dirt and one upturned landfill later (you didn’t think that all you’d end up moving was dirt did you?) you have a (reasonably) level plot. Continue on…
Step 2: Plan the greenhouse
Here’s what you’ll need:
3 local Peace Corps volunteers whose entire purpose in life for the next two years is agriculture.
1 aging cynical American ex-pat freedom fighter addicted to nicotine and caffeine. Mad skills with grilled cheese are always a plus.
1 computer preloaded with Microsoft Excel to create mechanically precise (ha!) sketches of the planned assembly.
8 people that have no idea what they’re doing.
Here’s what you do:
PVC is your friend.
PVC glue is evil and must be avoided like it carries the plague. Or Dengue Fever.
Duct tape rules. I wish we had some…
Packing tape is typically worse than useless. Masking tape… don’t even bother.
Step 3: Build the greenhouse
Here’s what you do:
Think I’m kidding? Think again.
Now, you might look at these instructions and think to yourself, “Man, I’m screwed…” but keep in mind that god loves development workers. Things have the most ridiculously insane tendency of just working out. I mean, not more than 48 hours ago I was standing in the plot we’ve been building the greenhouse on with a sinking feeling in my gut upon the realization that the PVC piping we purchased was too thin and would not hold weight. Today? Well, let’s just say there’s a smile on my face again. Over the course of the past few days I think we’ve been given a taste of what some people working here go through for years at a time, the rollercoaster ride from optimism to despair and back again. Besides, even jaded old dogs sometimes need the naïveté of a group of 8 American do-gooders to remember why they came here in the first place. After all, we’re Nourish International, and while we may not end up saving the world, you can sure bet we’re going to try.
By Russ Spitler
Ok, this entry is a few weeks late, but it is here. I departed Gaute 22 May in order to complete Navy ROTC training. The night before I left, Steph, a friend of Connor’s, and I decided to take a microbus from Nebaj to Santa Cruz and then voyage to Antigua via chicken bus. I was glad to join Steph since she had made the five hour trip before and since my Spanish was still developing day by day. As we neared Antigua we got off the cozy bus to visit the school where Steph had been volunteering. Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the school at the moment, but I plan on writing on it when I get my hands on my notes from the trip. Anyway, it was awesome.
We spent the night at Steph’s house in town. Other volunteers from the school were living there. Carrie, from CES, came over for dinner, and it was baller. I bought five pounds of coffee from the school, and it is quite tasty. The 22nd I took a taxi to the city. The driver and I talked about politics, our project, well, quite a lot of things actually. At the airport I ran into John and his wife, who work with the Full Belly Project. We were catching the same flight to Charlotte. While waiting for our bags in CLT, John told me about his tattoo from the Southern Pacific. I apologize that this is scatterbrained and is lacking in literary vitamins and minerals, but I only have a few minutes. I wanted to at least put something online since I have not done so in a while. I will post something worthwhile in a week or two.
Ashley, Alex and I were standing on the street corner of a dusty road in Iganga Town anxious to find our team. We had just left the Najja with our driver to find someone with a working phone and found our way to a MTN phone booth. The driver put down the phone and told us that our team had come back from the shop.
After our long journey we had finally arrived. Seeing Maggie, Joel, and John again was refreshing and frustrating. There was so much that they already knew so getting the big picture out of them was very difficult. It’s very hard to articulate just how in the dark I felt at that point in time. There was so much I wanted to do but I had little sense of where to go. Disoriented is a good word for it and I hated it. Read more →
By Erin Mulfinger
Last Sunday morning, we said goodbye to the hostel that had been our home for the past week and a half. We paired off and ventured into different areas of Nebaj to begin our stays with local families. Now, instead of sharing experiences as a group, we have been getting to know individual members of the community by learning their stories, eating their food, and getting a glimpse into their everyday lives.
We have gotten into a routine of eating breakfast and dinner with the families, and spending the day together, either working as a group or in small teams on what we came here to do. I have spent the past few mornings working with Nick and Steve on plans for creating a curriculum for teaching English at the Exploration Center. Currently, the children have English class scheduled three times per week, but for those times that a teacher is not available we will hopefully be creating DVDs for them to watch.
During the afternoons, the three of us read with the children individually at the Exploration Center. For the most part we read with the same children each day in an effort to track progress. Reading at home is not something many of these children experience on a regular basis. Therefore, they are not given the opportunity to develop the imaginative and creative thinking that results from such stimulation.
I have noticed a partiular difficulty among many of the children with distinguishing fantasy from reality. We read The Magic School Bus in the Solar System and one young girl nodded her head when I asked her whether a school bus would actually be able to go into outer space. When I asked her why she thought so, she was unable to answer me. I have also noticed such a struggle to answer when the children are asked what their opinions are about the readings or anything else.
Developing imaginations and critical thinking through reading is an important goal of the Exploration Center, and one with which I am in strong agreement. Although reading seems like such a simple exercise, I know that I sometimes forget how lucky I am to have begun reading with my family at such a young age and to have had parents and teachers who talked to me and asked me about my opinions from when I was very small.
No surprise to any of you, but the Uganda Project made it into the CEI newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:
How do three friends from Carolina — a sophomore, a senior and a recent graduate – find themselves traveling to Uganda this summer to launch a manufacturing facility? It all began with an inclination for helping others. Then, the right idea came along. Read more →